In 1945 Otto and Phoebe Haas created the Phoebe Waterman Foundation to provide for their philanthropic concerns, specifically relief in post-War Europe, scholarships for fatherless children, and support for medical and educational institutions. The Foundation's development was made possible by the increasing success of the Rohm and Haas Company.
Over the next decade, the Foundation was supported by gifts from the family and continued to reflect the personal philanthropic interests of Otto and Phoebe Haas. In 1955, as annual grants exceeded $100,000, the Foundation hired its first director.
Upon Mr. Haas' death in 1960, the Foundation received the bulk of his estate; Mrs. Haas continued a program of regular gifts to the Foundation until her death in 1967. During this period, Otto and Phoebe's sons, John C. and F. Otto, headed the Foundation's board.
When the Foundation's name was changed to the Haas Community Fund in 1970, annual grants were $3.5 million. Within another four years, grants had doubled to $7 million per year and the Haas family renamed the Fund the William Penn Foundation, commemorating the 17-century Quaker whose pursuit of an exemplary society led to the founding of Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love.
Throughout its history, the Foundation's grantmaking has focused on a range of topics, including arts and culture, human development, conservation and restoration, community fabric, education, and the environment.
In 2011, the eldest living child of the founders, John C. Haas passed away at the age of 92. In 2009, prior to his death, Mr. Haas directed nearly $750 million in new assets to the Foundation.
At the close of 2011, the Foundation's total assets were approximately $2 billion.
Over the years, presidents have included Richard Bennett, Harry Cerino, Kathy Engebretson, Janet Haas, Feather Houstoun, Jeremy Nowak, and Bernard Watson. Helen Davis Picher currently serves as the Foundation's Interim President. Thomas Haas serves as chair of the corporation and David Haas chairs the board of directors.